Review Benjamin Appl & Simon Lepper, Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin, St Martin-in-the-Fields by James Ellis

 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

The most wonderful concert occurred at St Martin’s in London. German baritone Benjamin Appl wowed with a fine evening of songs that will remain an unforgettable vision.

Starting with the UK premiere of David Lang’s ‘flower, forget me’, we had a ghostly atmosphere that was heavily inspired by the Schubert we would hear after. Its floral ambiance from all the poems by Wilhelm Müller that Schubert did not use for the latter cycle. It’s all very subtle and typical Lang. Both Appl and Lepper quite subdued for most of it, strange feelings of pain and disappointment predominate. Few notes are played by Lepper, what appears to be over thirty of Schubert songs in quotation form. Appl is soft and smooth here, his English showing very little of an accent. This new work should find it’s place with the now popular Lang party.

Straight into the Schubert with his Die schöne Müllerin, the bulk of the evening. These twenty songs prove the composers mastery over the lieder. The evocative sights are of nature, love and loss remain almost unbearable in their intensity. I was amazed at how brilliant Appl made things, he seems to eat and sleep these songs. I spent little time with the English translation, I simply wanted to watch him and his fine acting as well. It was his adorable little smile, his snarling, his teary turns that got to me. The song Pause, The Huntsman and the finale The Brook’s Lullaby remained as highlights, though numerous passages did also stand out.

This was the real deal in many respects, Appl seemingly taking the baton from singers like Dietrich Fischer Dieskau amongst others. Simon Lepper remains a staggering pianist, who impresses in everything he does. Even a moment lost between the sheets, he was able to find his footing, as Benjamin held a note patiently. The chilly air of the church would give Benjamin his own brief phase of coughing though nothing intruding upon his singing and he kept it well under wraps.

Consider me an absolute fan.

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